Whether you’re a bargain hunter or not, Black Friday is hard to ignore. 

Last year’s retail event was evidently bigger than ever in the UK, as Barclaycard reported that transaction numbers were up 32% on 2016. What’s more, Black Friday cemented itself as a predominantly online affair, with ecommerce sales increasing as brick-and-mortar declined.

So, we’re clearly a nation of online shoppers, but what else has Black Friday taught us about the state of ecommerce today?

Here’s four key things we have learnt. For lots more expert opinion and analysis, particularly when planning for 2018 and onwards, subscribers can check out Econsultancy’s Lessons from Black Friday Best Practice Guide

Website performance is improving

Black Friday has previously resulted in disappointment for online shoppers, often due to slow loading times or sites simply being unable to handle the amount of transactions taking place. 

2015 was a particular low point, with big name brands including Argos, Lowes, and Target all buckling under the weight of Black Friday demand.

As the past few years have seen continued increase in online transactions, retailers have had no choice but to up their digital game or risk losing out. Luckily, the majority have risen to the challenge. According to Dynatrace, the average time a retail site took to fully load on Black Friday was just 2.5 seconds – under the three seconds that consumers typically expect.

This is good news for shoppers, of course, but it also means that an increased focus on website performance is likely to have a positive effect for retailers throughout the entire year (not just on the day itself). 

That being said, there’s always room for improvement, and in order to ensure that sites stay speedy, retailers should be looking to analyse past data to determine where potential problems could occur in future. 

Shoppers are savvier than ever

Another big observation from Black Friday 2017 is the increasingly sporadic behaviour of online consumers. This is typically shown in shoppers researching goods, adding items to their baskets, but not going through with transactions until they are sure they have found the best deal. 

As a result, basket abandonment rates soared, reaching 74.5% in the US last year. 

So what does this mean for retailers? While on one hand it could mean an increased opportunity for sales – with brands having less of a job to lure customers in – it could also have a negative effect elsewhere. 

For example, one tactic used to improve basket abandonment rates is to provide reassurance during the path to purchase, let’s say by displaying how much stock is left or how many people are currently browsing. However, this metric could itself be skewed by ‘basket bandits’ as they’re known – those with items in their basket but no real intent to purchase.

A way to offset this type of behaviour (and its impact) is to focus on loyalty. This means instead of playing into the hands of the one-off bargain-hunters, retailers could benefit more from offering the best and biggest discounts to longer-term shoppers. This also has the benefit of creating a ripple effect throughout the year, with happy customers coming back long-after the event has ended.

Everyone wants a slice of the Amazon pie

It’s probably no surprise to hear just how dominant Amazon was during Black Friday 2017. According to Hitwise, of the top 50 retailers in the US, Amazon captured 45.1% of all online transactions on Thanksgiving Day and 54.9% of transactions on Black Friday. 

To put this into perspective, the second and third biggest sellers, Walmart and Best Buy, accounted for just 13.9% and 8.3% of all transactions on Thanksgiving and 8.8% and 5% of all transactions on Black Friday.

Amazon dominates Black Friday to such an extent that some retailers might even question why they bother competing. However, this highlights where many go wrong. Instead of trying to snatch a piece of Amazon’s pie – surely impossible considering its combination of price, convenience, and delivery etc. – retailers should be focusing on how to carve out their own space in the market.

This means getting back to basics on a customer-focused strategy – figuring out who the core customer is, what they want, and how to can deliver it.

Of course, another tactic is to work with Amazon instead of against it, something that retailer Kohl’s did last year by offering in-store Amazon returns on Black Friday. You can read more on this case study in the full report.

Positioning is key – not just bargains

Another way retailers can differentiate themselves in such a competitive space is by thinking about more than just deals. This is because while consumers might naturally be led by cheap prices, it’s certainly not the only thing they are influenced by. 

Whether it’s philanthropic efforts, influencer involvement, or even a strong stance against Black Friday – there are many ways that retailers can capture consumer attention and stand out from the crowd.

Again, this goes back to having a strong customer-focused strategy. Ultimately, retailers who are able to deliver something of real value to their core shopper (and not just a blanket offer or low price point) are likely to find success.

Related reading: